Help Denver win its war against the opioid epidemic

Authors: Robert Valuck, Leslie Herod - August 31, 2018 - Updated: August 31, 2018

Robert Valuck

As we all read in news reports, the opioid crisis in the United States is getting worse. Of the estimated 72,000 overdose deaths last year — over 1,000 in Colorado alone — opioids are still the biggest culprit. And there are many reasons to be concerned.

Fentanyl is the fastest growing cause of overdose deaths, both here in Colorado and nationally. Fentanyl is dangerous, it is scary, and we need to make sure the public is aware of this street drug. However, the largest driver of opioid deaths continues to be prescription drugs.

We have taken strides to curb the overprescription of opioids. In the last 4 years, prescriptions have declined. But, with an average time of 13 years between a person first taking opioids and dying from overdose, this problem will get worse before it gets better.

In the short-term, we need to provide access to naloxone, a life-saving medication that pulls people out of an opioid overdose. When it is available at local pharmacies and in our community, naloxone is proven to save lives. But as we look to the next several years, we can do more.

In Denver, we take care of our family, our friends, and our neighbors and this challenge is no different. Substance abuse affects people of all stripes, regardless of age, economic or cultural background or gender.

Leslie Herod

In short, we know what works and, with additional resources through Caring 4 Denver, we can and should help people in crisis. Caring 4 Denver will appear on the ballots of Denver voters in November. The measure will raise $45 million annually through a sales tax increase of 25 cents per $100. It will be used to improve the quality, availability and affordability of community-based mental health and substance abuse care in Denver. Caring 4 Denver will help support services including opioid and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, mental health services and treatment for children and adults, and will reduce the costly use of jails and emergency rooms.

Perhaps as important, Caring 4 Denver will create a culture of change in our community. We can create a conversation where opioid addiction is destigmatized and help is available for those who need and want it. We have the power to make Denver one of the success stories. We have the power to fight the stigma. We have the power to act. And we have the power to vote to support treatment for opioid addiction and substance abuse.

Caring 4 Denver won’t solve the problem overnight but it will be the single greatest thing Denver has ever done to address the overdose crisis.

Robert Valuck

Robert Valuck

Robert Valuck is a physician and a professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Leslie Herod

Leslie Herod

Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, represents the 8th District in the Colorado House of Representatives.